Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Talking to baritone Yair Polishook about his new Israeli Baroque opera project

Yair Polishook (photo:Dana Pomerni)
On March 11th 2017, I spoke to baritone Yair Polishook in Tel Aviv about his new “crowd-funding” campaign for a new Baroque opera ensemble in Israel. A singer familiar to lovers of opera and oratorio, Polishook’s main focus today is opera, both as a soloist in the Israeli Opera and in foreign opera productions. (He recently performed in a double bill of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” and Charpentier’s “Actéon” with “Les Talens lyriques” in France under Christophe Rousset.) Yair teaches a little, but has set his sights at conducting. During his studies at the Trinity College of Music (London), he conducted a production of “Dido and Aeneas”.

PH: I understand you have a new project. How did it all begin?

Yair Polishook: The Israeli Bach Soloists ensemble, directed by Sharon Rosner, was disbanded over four years ago. We performed (mostly) Bach works, according to the theory that there were few singers and no choir performing them. This was highly interesting work for us as soloists and as a group. I have been wondering where we should go from there and what ensemble we could form that would be no less interesting. What interests me in particular is opera, so I approached some of my colleagues from the IBS and other singers from the Israeli Opera, with the aim of establishing a Baroque opera ensemble, in which each artist would have the chance of expressing himself/herself to the maximum.

PH: Would you need a large number of singers?

YP: No.  Baroque operas may sometimes require that, but we have found that working with a small ensemble creates a more organic and interesting group…more interesting both to singers and audience. In my opinion, a smaller group makes for more dramatic impact – each singer plays a character in the plot. And I am a “stage creature”; I love theatre (and music, of course) so my world is the world of opera. There are so many Baroque operas, of which not many are performed in Israel; what also interests us is authentic, historically informed performance.

PH: So, no opera chorus?

YP: Well, it is clear that Telemann meant there to be a choir, but we will work only with soloists to try to create this more engaging experience.

PH: Who have you approached?

YP: Daniela Skorka, Einat Aronstein, Shahar Levi, Alon Harari, Guy Pelc and Oded Reich, a real team of “all stars”.

PH: Who will conduct the ensemble?

YP: That will be my job. I studied conducting in high school and then with Mendi Rodan and Avner Biron at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. So, I am interested in extending that side of my career. For the ensemble’s first program I will not be singing but conducting. But it may be that we will sometimes work as an ensemble without a conductor.

PH: What will the company be called?

YP: The Orpheus Opera Ensemble. I chose this name, as the first opera we want to produce will be Telemann’s “The Wonderful Constancy of Love, or Orpheus”.

PH: Would you like to say a few words about the work?

YP: Yes. It is a splendid work that was only discovered in the 1970s. Tel Aviv University has performed some parts of it, but the complete opera has not been staged in Israel. Only two recordings of it exist; so, you could say the work is not well known at all! It’s time to perform it. One of its greatest moments is the aria of lament Orpheus sings after Eurydice has died for the second time, as he has not managed to release her from the nether world. Apart from the music, the opera is very interesting: there is an extra character – the Thracian queen Orasia, who is always full of complaints, hence her extravagant tirade arias… The main character, it is she who sets the whole plot in motion. She is in love with Orpheus and sends a snake to bite Eurydice, thus banishing Eurydice to the nether world. And not just Orasia – all the female characters are strong women, so this is definitely no chauvinistic opera! The opera is based on a libretto by Michel du Boullay. The libretto Telemann used was written by Louis Lully (son of Jean-Baptiste). In aristocratic circles of Telemann’s time, people were interested in multilingual culture, the result being that in this opera the recitatives are in German; some of the arias are also in German but there are also arias in Italian and in French…and each in the musical style of its language! The Italian arias sound like Händel’s Italian style, the French arias closer to the style of Lully.  Telemann also knew Rameau and the queen’s very moving final aria could be have been influenced by Rameau’s style. So, in wishing to keep up with the taste of contemporary society and please his audience, Telemann has compiled an opera that is nevertheless quite organic and very compelling.  

PH: Who will do stage direction?

YP: Shirit Lee Weiss, whom I have known since 2010, when we were working together in Menotti’s “The Telephone” and have worked together ever since in productions of the Meitar Opera Studio and the Israeli Opera. She is outstanding in guiding each singer to understand the character being portrayed, and, on the other hand, seeing the opera in its larger meaning.

PH: And instrumentalists?

YP: We have decided to collaborate with “Camera XV”, an ensemble formed at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv), a group only existing for some five years, and running its own programs. Half of the ensemble has departed for studies further afield, so we are enlisting some more fine players – Tali Goldberg, Smadar Schidlovski, Daniel Tanchelson, Inbar Navot, Marina Minkin, Netta Huebscher, Inbar Solomon, Yigal Kaminka, Amir Bakman and Nadav Ovadia.

PH: And a home for the company?

YP: We have decided to be totally independent, in order to show what we can do. I hope that, in time, once we are up and running, we will have a permanent “home” in which we can work. We are presently looking for a place in Tel Aviv.

PH: What for you will be of prime importance?

YP: Communication with the audience. I am there to speak to my audience, an audience very different to that of Telemann’s time. The most communicative element is theatre. Music can be very beautiful, but I want interesting characters and opera narrative that will be fascinating and attractive.

PH: When do you intend to debut the company?

YP: Next season, i.e.2017-2018.

PH: So how can we help the ensemble get onto its feet?

YP: By going into Headstart, a site helping a variety of individual projects to get established. The idea is very simple: as yet, we have no budget or donors, but instead of waiting for them to appear, we want to ask people to buy tickets ahead of time for our first performance, to pay its expenses (lighting, sets, etc.) and to know that we have enough people interested in coming to hear us. You might call it reversing the order of things. A single ticket costs NIS 150, two purchased together will cost NIS 250. It is an opportunity to support us and believe in what we want to achieve. And we have some other interesting options: you might like to try a voice lesson, a conducting lesson (buy a ticket and lesson together), attend an open rehearsal (always interesting) or engage a private performance for some special occasion – 40 minutes of music with two singers, for example.

It’s very simple: you go into the site, there is a film clip about us. You buy your tickets and, most important,  when purchasing tickets your credit card will not be charged…only if we reach the amount we need to start the ensemble. But time is short: we have only to the  end of March to achieve our goal!

PH: Thanks for the information, Yair. I wish you all much success in the venture!